Many of Sam Ekren's short films and photographs play off the conflict of nature versus urban environments or people's place in the world.
This fall, Ekren's life will mimic his art, a bit, as the young artist completes a filmmaking journey that has taken him from his lakefront home near Nevis to the concrete matrix of New York City and one of the most prestigious film schools in the nation.
It's a dramatic move from Nevis, home of fewer than 400 people, to the most populous city in the country. But there have been intermediate stops along the way. In 2008, Ekren enrolled in the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, Minn., a school where students focus on art.
While there, Ekren crafted "By My Side," a 3 1/2-minute stop-animation film about an awkward masked boy finding new life perspective with a woman at his side. The movie has been celebrated at festivals around the nation, winning awards in Washington, D.C., New York and being spotlighted in the Los Angeles Film Festival.
The 2009 movie, which consists of hundreds of photographs spliced together and run as "film," has earned Ekren some attention. But the 18-year-old who just moved into his first Twin Cities apartment is cool and modest. He deflects accolades about the movie and gives credit to the Perpich school, which he heard about through his parents.
He auditioned for acceptance on a whim, took a tour of the school and left impressed enough to know he wanted to go there to refine the filmmaking and photography skills he developed making home movies with his friends that were later posted to YouTube.
"He needed to get out and do more artistic things, like at that school," says Ekren's father, Keith.
In the fall, his education will take the next step as he moves to New York City and begins his career at New York University in the school's Tisch School for the Arts - often regarded as one of the top filmmaking programs in America.
"I'm excited for next year to see where I draw my inspiration from in the city, where there are less rural environments," Ekren says.
It's a worthy question, as the films and photographs on Ekren's website, www.samuelekren.com, show an artist continually mining the organic elements of bare nature to dominate the aesthetics of his art.
For the summer, Ekren will concentrate on photography in the Twin Cities. But come the fall, he'll find out what his muse directs him to, and what facet of filmmaking he'll focus on for a career.
"I'm excited to figure out what in the film industry I want to do," he says. "I could be a director, and that would be nice, but there are hundreds of roles in making a film."
Chances are he'll focus on what comes naturally to him.
Robert Morast is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.